Now an outspoken 27 year old, Jayani Perera’s descriptions of herself as a studious, socially awkward child are difficult to believe.
“I hate everything pink, love travelling, and love myself for always being different from the rest of the normal population,” she proclaims.
“I have a very loud voice and laugh, and I can speak four languages. I have a bad habit of trusting people too soon and trying to go out of my way to help anyone I come across on a day-to-day basis.”
Jayani always knew that her desire to help others would play a central role in her life. However, it was to take her in many different directions before leading her to UNSW, where she graduated this year with a Master of Laws in Criminal Justice and Criminology.
Jayani’s journey began in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where she grew up in a traditional Buddhist family, and she undertook her undergraduate studies at the Asia Pacific Institute of Information Technology.
She says that, despite suffering from social phobia as a child, she always knew she wanted to work closely with people.
“It was my attentive listening skills and genuine interest in all things human that made me understand I have a human-centred personality,” the self-proclaimed ‘agony aunt’ for everyone around her explains.
Following her bachelor’s degree, Jayani decided to pursue this interest by undertaking legal qualifications at the Sri Lanka Law College. In 2016, she was called to the Bar to practise as an attorney-at-law.
As an attorney, Jayani helped establish a non-profit legal aid organisation, Know the Law. She also volunteered widely within the Sri Lankan educational sector, where she discovered a newfound passion for helping girls in rural areas attain academic qualifications.
She describes the experiences she had while volunteering as priceless.
“Visiting rural areas, sleeping on the bare ground, making friends, teaching innocent students, seeing their happy faces and giving them unforgettable memories gave my life purpose and satisfaction.”
Following these early years of her professional life, Jayani decided to travel to Australia, where she was awarded an Academic Excellence Scholarship to commence a Master of Laws (LLM) at UNSW.
She says that her studies at UNSW have further developed her understanding of the many reasons people commit crimes and shed invaluable light on some of the deeply embedded issues within the justice system.
After graduating, Jayani intends to return to Sri Lanka and apply her new knowledge to research into restorative justice for prisoners.
She says she will leave UNSW as a more open-minded and professionally accomplished person.
“Working with students of various ages and skills taught me patience and understanding,” she says.
“UNSW has a very diversified student population. Meeting new people from all around the world, making friends, chatting over coffees, hitting Max Brenner for chocolate emergencies, mentoring new students and sharing campus stories with them have all been awesome experiences.”
She also says that the quality of the education and the professional calibre of University staff were highlights of her time here, citing UNSW’s reputation for excellent teaching as a key reason behind her choice of university.
“The best aspect of the degree was being able to learn so many new and interesting subjects under the guidance of pioneers of those areas,” she says.
“It was both overwhelming and exceptional at the same time.”
Jayani’s UNSW experience wasn’t limited to her coursework, however. During her time here, she volunteered with the NSW Bar Association, completed a postgraduate internship program and worked with the Law Society as both International Student Developer Director and a mentor in the Outreach Program.
She forged strong friendships with many members of the University community, overcoming language and cultural barriers to do so, and she encourages students from international backgrounds to be brave in the pursuit of these relationships.
“Don’t be afraid to make friends,” she says.
“Don’t let the language barrier discourage you and be the only thing between you and your life goals. Lastly, since you have come this far from home, return home with at least one good friend from another country, with lots of great memories to share.”
At the end of her degree, Jayani leaves UNSW having gained much more than ‘one good friend’: she leaves with a wealth of new knowledge, new connections and new confidence. Long gone is the awkward ‘agony aunt’ she once was.